Fresh faces in Chicago

February 23, 2011

Chicago Tribune Editorial

Alderman-elect Ameya Pawar lives five blocks from Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel‘s house in the 47th Ward. The similarities end there. Pawar had almost no formal campaign organization. His total war chest was about half of what film director Steven Spielberg alone gave to Emanuel. No one has questioned Pawar’s residence, a basement apartment in North Center.

But Pawar, a 30-year-old university administrator with a tongue-twister of a name, was the delightful surprise of election night. He beat the Democratic organization in what was once known as the Fighting 47th when Ed Kelly was ward boss and parks boss and a very big deal in this town.

Pawar beat the machine — though it’s hard to call the remnants in the 47th a machine anymore.

Now Pawar could be a very good friend to his neighbor, Rahm Emanuel. Because if the new mayor makes good on his promise to upend the way Chicago does business, Pawar will be right there with him.

Few aldermanic candidates who met with the Tribune editorial board during this campaign impressed us as much as Pawar, who says the part-time aldermen should slash their salaries and—gasp!—give up their pension benefits. He earned this victory through hustle. He’ll go to the council with a lot of ideas about efficient government.

It’s hard to say yet what the new City Council will look like. No incumbent was defeated on Tuesday, though several face runoff elections. Nearly a third of the council seats are still up for grabs.

We’re optimistic, though. There will be a lot of fresh faces, including a crop of 30-somethings. Their idealism and youthful energy should not be a surprise. What is most notable is their pragmatic, hard-headed perspective.

These young victors brim with ideas. First Ward Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno, 38, who was appointed just last year, has been a tireless promoter and advocate for vibrant Wicker Park and Bucktown. Fourth Ward Ald.-elect Will Burns, 37, learned under the tutelage of Toni Preckwinkle and Barack Obama. The incoming alderman of the 28th Ward, Jason Ervin, 36, talks of using his financial expertise to push “generational change.”

They realize their big dreams will mean nothing unless the city takes a hard line on spending, efficient delivery of government services and City Hall (oxymoron alert) ethics. Idealistic, yet practical.

Could the City Council actually become an incubator of innovation? OK, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. But there’s a chance.

These newcomers could join with some Gen X incumbents who have solidified their political standing. Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, who didn’t have an opponent, is helping some candidates around the city. Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd, trounced three challengers who were backed by some old-guard pols. Waguespack’s political strength was another delightful surprise.

The council will see at least 10 new members. By the time the dust clears on 14 runoff elections, at least half the aldermen will have been in office for less than five years.

Emanuel said Wednesday that he will get involved in some runoffs. That’s a good thing, because he’s going to need allies. The geographic breadth of his victory should help him. He says he doesn’t want a rubber stamp council. The greater concern is that opponents who want to protect the city bureaucracy line up council members against him

He has an ambitious agenda. “Anybody that wants to be a partner in that effort, I want to help…” he said Wednesday.

Emanuel will get to move back in his old house soon. Our guess is he’ll beat a path the five blocks to visit Ameya Pawar.